Once the routine has been established and you’ve spent sufficient time working on your base level fitness you can start thinking about how to improve your performance by getting the most from your available time.

It’s still advisable to keep most of your training at an easy aerobic pace because although the addition of faster paced running will improve your fitness quicker it will also increase your risk of injury unless of course you keep it controlled.

Adding just one faster paced session per week will pay dividends regardless of your level of fitness but again I’ll stress that it needs to be controlled and nothing more than you are able for.

For a beginner wanting to improve you can consider anything that has you breathing harder than usual to be speed work.  This pace only needs to be faster than your regular training pace to be of benefit.

Before you consider adding faster paced sessions to your weekly routine you might try running routes that include some hills as this will increase leg strength and also work the heart and lungs because of the increased effort required.

Stronger legs will be better prepared to handle faster running and again this helps with staying injury free.

One of my favourite sessions to help improve fitness through speed work without overdoing it is called the Fartlek session which comes from the Swedish word for Speed Play.

This is basically an unstructured session made up of mostly easy running with some shorter / faster elements added in and you do as much or as little as you feel able for.

A sample session would be something like 10 minutes of easy running followed by a short sprint for as long as you feel comfortable with and then you slow down for as long as it takes to recover before going again.

You could try picking landmarks or objects on your route such as lampposts and use the gap between the first two for a sprint and recover to the next and so on.  As always do make sure to warm up sufficiently and allow time to cool down.

This session will feel like hard work but the payback will come on your normal running days as they will start to feel easier and more enjoyable.

For continuous improvement you need to:

  • Be consistent with your training.
  • Build up slowly and be patient with progress.
  • Include rest days.
  • Follow hard days with easy or rest days.
  • Warm up and cool down.
  • Vary your running route and don’t avoid hills.
  • Run on different surfaces.
  • Only do what you can recover from.
  • Pay attention to staying injury free as you can’t train if injured and you won’t improve if you don’t train.

It’s advisable to consult with your doctor before starting on any new exercise regime if starting from a base of zero fitness and years of inactivity or returning from illness or injury.

John O’Regan is the official running coach for Run in the Dark.

John O’Regan has ran over 50 marathons and ultra marathons on seven continents / 20 countries and represented Ireland on 10 occasions at ultra marathon distance. Follow him on Twitter at @johnoregan777 

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